Launching the AlphaPilot Innovation Challenge, Lockheed Martin and The Drone Racing League (DRL) have challenged teams of coders, engineers, and technologists to take on developing artificial intelligence (AI) for high-speed racing drones.

Of over the 420 teams that applied in 2019, only 9 finalists earned the opportunity to compete in mastering autonomous flight and win more than $1,250,000 in cash prizes.

The AlphaPilot challenge tests teams of up to 10 participants on their ability to design an AI framework – powered by the NVIDIA Xavier GPU for autonomous systems – capable of flying a drone through three-dimensional race courses using only machine vision and guidance, navigation, and control algorithms. Teams will not have prior knowledge of the exact course layouts, nor will they benefit from GPS, data offboarding, or human intervention of any kind. Designed by DRL, the autonomous drone will provide the sensing, agility, and speed needed for competitive racing as part of DRL’s new Artificial Intelligence Robotic Racing (AIRR) Circuit, starting in fall 2019.

Why Drones?

Drone racing is a futuristic sport and a big draw for millennials and K-12 students with an interest in technology — many of whom will become future STEM professionals, drone pilots, and engineers. Lockheed Martin recognizes the important role in helping to develop a workforce with skills to compete in a 21st century high-tech economy. Lockheed Martin and DRL targeted U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to apply for AlphaPilot; however, the competition was open to drone enthusiasts, coders and technologists of all ages from around the world.

Why is Lockheed Martin doing this?

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For more than 100 years, Lockheed Martin has been redefining flight — from the fastest speeds, to the edge of space, to unmatched maneuverability, and stealth. AI-enabled autonomy promises to fundamentally change the future of flight, and we are actively developing disruptive new AI technologies that will help our customers accomplish their most important missions – from reaching Mars to fighting wildfires.


Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 105,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. For more information, please visit


DRL is the professional drone racing circuit for elite FPV pilots around the world. A technology, sports and media company, DRL combines world-class media and proprietary technology to create thrilling 3D drone racing content with mass appeal. The 2019 DRL Allianz World Championship Season will feature races in iconic venues across the globe that’ll stream on Twitter and Youku and air on the best sports programs worldwide, including NBC, Sky Sports and ProSieben. For more information, please visit

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What this could mean?  It is always a good thing when a leading technology company like Lockheed Martin takes a leading role in advancing AI technology and putting up a huge amount of money to attract the top ‘brains’. In this case, drone racing is a category that some of the large family entertainment centers can get involved in.

For example, an indoor go-kart track could easily be used as a drone racing course with the drones following overhead the track. Of course, this could only be done when the track is closed off, netted and protected from the racers and spectators who would sit outside of the netted area. This is just an additional attraction generating revenue opportunity during late-night hours.

The concept of drone racing leagues may be more than most FEC’s may want to get involved with, but when it comes to a great practice space that is safe, FEC’s are a much better choice and a great place to practice and show your skills in a social setting.